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The Road to Nationals

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Sharks hope that fourth time’s a charm

by Andrew Rudansky

Since the team was founded in 1973, The Montauk Rugby Football Club (MRFC) has built a tradition of success. The club, informally known as the Sharks, hopes to build on that winning tradition this May as it heads to Pittsburgh to take part in the USA Mens Division II Club Nationals.

This will be the fourth time in club history that the MRFC has made it to the USA Rugby Nationals. The club first reached the tournament in 1998, placing third. It came back to the playoffs again in two successive years in 2005-2006. Despite its success, the national title has still evaded the club.

Before the club gets to the finals, however, it will first travel to Pittsburgh for an Eastern US tournament, battling its way through a two-day Sweet 16 round on Saturday, May 12.

Club Captain Gordon Trotter was with the team during its 2005-2006 nationals run and said he knows what it takes to compete against the best competition in U.S. Rugby.

“We have a solidified team, but we struggle with numbers,” said Trotter, “The problem with rugby is that you always have injuries, so all those guys on the roster have to step up.”

Trotter said that only 25 members of the 43-member team are expected to make the trip to Pittsburgh, further complicating the team’s depth issues.

Despite the thin roster, Trotter said the team’s only real weakness going into the finals could be their mindsets. If the team fails to be in the game mentally,  it could be a short post-season for the Sharks.

If the MRFC manages to make it out of the Eastern U.S. playoffs it will challenge the top team in the west in the Division II finals in Glendale, Colorado.

During the regular season the team plays in Herrick Park in East Hampton, competing in sanctioned Metropolitan Union league games in the fall, while organizing scrimmages against non-league clubs in the spring.

This year the Montauk club has organized all of its spring friendlies against Division I opponents to prepare for the increased level of play in the nationals. So far MRFC has gone 1-1 against Division I opponents, first beating the Village Lions RFC, 25-20, on April 14, and then losing to the Long Island RFC, 22-24, on April 21.

“This team is one of the strongest I have seen in Montauk,” said Trotter. “We have young, good athletes…for years the team used to be just a lot of older guys.”

The Sharks marched their way into nationals on a stellar 8-0 regular season this fall in the Division II Metropolitan Union, where they competed against teams from around the tristate area.

The team made it to the Northeast Rugby Union playoffs that season, eventually falling to the Middlesex Rugby Football Club, 53-0 back in November. Both teams were invited to compete in Pittsburgh.

Trotter, a native of New Zealand, is one of two foreign-born players on the team. The majority of the 43-man roster is comprised of South Fork locals.

“It really is a local team,” said Trotter, “Last time we went to nationals there were a few more international players, but that is the great thing about this year, we have done it all based on local talent.”

The team is comprised primarily of former college and local high school athletes. The current roster boasts former wrestlers, Lacrosse and football players who have come to Rugby later in their lives.

“In the 12 years I have been here the sport here has really grown up a lot. It is starting to take on that professionalism,” said Trotter.

Trotter and the club’s coach, Rich Brierley, said that MRFC is looking for new members for the fall 2012 season, and welcomes any new members.

The Club might need the new members as MRFC’s current league, Metropolitan New York, is to be reformed into the larger Empire Rugby Football Union for the upcoming fall season. The new league could mean increased competition for the Sharks.

The team will next play another friendly on Saturday, April 28 at 1 p.m. against Division 1 Long Island RFC at Herrick Park, East Hampton. After that game, MRFC is holding its first annual Casino Night at the Amagansett American Legion Hall at 6 p.m. The proceeds of the fundraiser will offset the team’s travel costs at Nationals. For more information and tickets please call 335-0906.